BEIRUT: Authorities are considering the possibility a suicide bomber may have been behind a car bombing in Beirut’s southern suburb, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Friday, as the death toll from the deadly blast rose to 24.
“The initial hypothesis is that the blast was the work of a suicide [bomber] due the presence of a car in the middle of the road,” Charbel said, adding that CCTV footage would help determine what happened.
The other possibility, Charbel told Voice of Lebanon, is that the car was detonated remotely.
A car bomb ripped through the southern suburb neighborhood of Ruwaiss Thursday evening, causing many casualties and extensive damage in the area. Like a previous car bomb in the southern suburb of Bir al-Abed in July, Thursday’s attack is believed to be linked to the crisis in neighboring Syria.
A security source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, confirmed Charbel’s assessment, saying a suicide bomber was the most plausible theory, citing reports the vehicle exploded in the middle of the street and had not been parked at the time of the blast.
This varied from the July bombing in the Hezbollah stronghold of Bir al-Abed, where the vehicle used was in a stationary position.
But the source said there were conflicting witness reports concerning the suspect bomber, with some saying they saw a man blow himself up after exiting the vehicle while others stating the man had been driving the car when it exploded.
The source said remains of body parts that have yet to be identified were located at the blast site.
According to the source, a black BMW was used in the bombing and contained some 60 kilograms of TNT mixed with C4, a highly flammable plastic explosive.
Lebanese Red Cross official Iyad Munzer told The Daily Star at least 300 people were wounded in the bombing, which ripped through the commercial and residential neighborhood in the evening peak hour.
Deputy Commissioner at the Military Tribunal Judge Sami Sader inspected the site of the explosion and ordered it be sealed off except for forensic teams and bomb experts.
Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said judicial experts are “carefully analyzing” a video posted on YouTube of a previously unknown group that claimed responsibility for the bombing.
A group calling itself the “Brigade of Aisha, the Mother of the Faithful” threatened further attacks against what they called “Iranian colonies” in Lebanon.
An urgent meeting was convened at Beiteddine, the president’s summer residence, to address the security situation in the country.
“The [High Defense] Council discussed the perils resulting from terrorist acts moving from one area to another,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir, the general-secretary of the Council said following the meeting.
Kheir said the participants listened to facts presented by senior security officials regarding the recent car bombings and rocket attacks in Lebanon.
Earlier in the day, Charbel said the meeting would look into a plan to protect Beirut’s southern suburbs after the deadly car explosion.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced Friday a day of mourning for the Ruwaiss victims.
Seven people remain unaccounted for: Saleh Abbas; his three children, Mohammad, Maryam and Malak; as well as Mohammad Jaber, Jad Ali Jaafar and Mohammad Mhaydelli.
Relatives of the missing have been asked to undergo DNA tests to help identify remains found at the crime scene.
The interior minister said no arrests have been made in the case.